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Dwyer v. Ford Motor Co.

Decided: March 30, 1961.


Goldmann, Foley and Collester. The opinion of the court was delivered by Foley, J.A.D.


This is an appeal by a widow of a deceased employee of respondent, from a judgment of the County Court dismissing her claim petition for dependency compensation for the benefit of herself and her four minor children. The claim petition sought compensation for decedent's death as a result of a heart attack alleged to have arisen out of and in the course of his employment by respondent. The judgment of the County Court affirmed a judgment of dismissal in the Division of Workmen's Compensation.

It is contended that the petitioner established by a preponderance of the probabilities that the duties of the employment operated as a contributing cause to the death of her husband, but for which it would not have occurred.

The case turns on a determination of which of two conflicting medical opinions is supported by the preponderance of probabilities. While the essential facts upon which these opinions were based are not in dispute, nevertheless, it is necessary that such facts be recited at some length if our

evaluation of the weight of the respective opinions is to be fully understood.

The decedent, who was 41 years of age, had been employed by respondent for seven years. He had been in good health until 1953 when he consulted his family physician because of a pain in his left shoulder. This underlying condition was diagnosed as a subdeltoid bursitis. In May of 1956 he began having pains in his chest, his left arm "went dead," his left hand became numb and he suffered from indigestion and diarrhea. On June 12, 1956 he entered Christ Hospital in Jersey City, where he was treated by a cardiologist for 18 days. Electrocardiograms taken during the hospitalization were not significant. The diagnosis made on discharge was "Arthritis (rheumatoid) angina pectoris." It was then stated that his condition was very much improved. Following the confinement in Christ Hospital he stayed at home for three weeks and then returned to work.

On December 6, 1956 he again consulted his family physician and complained of a pain across the chest which radiated to his left arm. The physician examined him and took electrocardiograms which indicated no significant abnormality. A diagnosis was made of coronary insufficiency, and the medication prescribed was "in the nature of vasodilators."

On February 11, 1957 the same physician was called to decedent's home and found him complaining of pains across the chest. Again the diagnosis was coronary insufficiency and the same medication was prescribed.

On Sunday, April 27, 1958, while at home and shortly before lunch, decedent found that he "could hardly breathe"; had a "terrible pain" in his left arm and hand; "went cold"; "sweat poured from him," and he "just could not get any air." In a telephone conversation, his physician prescribed nitroglycerin pills which he was directed to put under his tongue. The pain continued throughout the day. He remained at home on April 28 and was visited by his doctor who examined him, again diagnosed the condition as coronary insufficiency, and renewed the prescription of nitroglycerin pills.

On April 29 decedent's wife telephoned the physician and discussed the advisability of decedent's going to work that day. She was told by the doctor that he could go to work but that he should refrain from "heavy lifting and pushing and work of that nature." On that morning decedent was very pale as compared with his usual ruddy complexion. He was fatigued and drawn and although he was a big man in physical stature and appearance and -- as his wife put it, "a big eater" -- he did not eat the prepared meal. That afternoon he drove from his home in West New York to respondent's plant in Mahwah, New Jersey, taking with him the nitroglycerin pills and a lunch consisting of a sandwich and a piece of cake. He was accompanied by four or more fellow workmen, two of whom he picked up in West New York and the others en route to Mahwah.

In the course of the drive decedent placed a nitroglycerin pill under his tongue. A fellow workman testified that he "did not look good," that he "looked sick while in the car and was a little pale." He commenced his work by lining up a barrel filled with grenadine chemical which would later be substituted for one then in place on the bonderizing machine. Because of its weight and bulk and its position on a stand three or four feet above the floor, it had to be lifted by him with a steel chain block and fall. The apparatus had two hooks on each side and decedent after hooking up the barrel lifted it by means of the block and fall. Following this operation it was noticed that decedent was "puffing." A fellow workman testified that decedent had never "puffed" before, that his "complexion was white and strained and he looked like he was slowing up." At about 6:30 P.M. decedent removed the grenadine barrel which had been emptied, slackened the chain of the ...

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